Gardeners with Heart: UC Master Gardeners Put Professional Skills to Work as Volunteers

Apr 22, 2020

Gardeners with Heart: UC Master Gardeners Put Professional Skills to Work as Volunteers

Apr 22, 2020

It's no secret that UC Master Gardener volunteers wear many hats. Fortunately for the UC Master Gardener Programs in Lake, Ventura, and Contra Costa Counties, three extraordinary volunteers bring their work experience with them into their home gardening volunteer efforts!

Merry Jo Velasquez – Lake County

Merry Jo Velasquez is a busy full time medical researcher, a volunteer with her local Resource Conservation District (RCD), and member of the Blue Ribbon Committee for the Rehabilitation of Clearlake, in addition to being an active UC Master Gardener volunteer in Lake County.

“Merry Jo knows how to do research, because that's what she does for a living in the medical field. Applying this skill to horticultural projects comes naturally to her,” says Gabriele O'Neill, program coordinator in Lake County. Merry Jo's ability to do research and her many connections with land-based organizations have been personally and organizationally fruitful. She authored a UC Master Gardener Program in Lake County publication for local gardeners titled the Lake County Ornamental Gardening Guide

Her community involvement and warm personality helped a strong connection between the UC Master Gardener Program in Lake County and the RCD, leading to collaborations on local restoration projects. Merry Jo's knowledge of California native plants made her an excellent fit for fellow volunteer Jerry Marquis' rehabilitation effort on of the grounds of a historical stagecoach stop and museum.

Balancing work and volunteer commitments is innate to Merry Jo – you might say she wrote the book on it!

Harry Lee – Ventura County

Harry Lee is a lifelong vegetable gardener, full-time accountant and a UC Master Gardener volunteer in Ventura County. Harry joined the UC Master Gardener Program because he was looking for a volunteer opportunity that aligned with his interests and provided a contrast from his professional life in finance. Fortunately for his fellow volunteers, Harry did not leave his personal and professional skills at the garden gate.

Harry has extensive experience as an accountant and utilizes those skills as the Ventura County program's treasurer. Harry's extensive home gardening trials and experiential garden knowledge make him an incredibly successful teacher, both for new UC Master Gardener trainees and members of the public. His impeccable home trials have also made him a great fit for helping Ventura County's farm advisors with research projects

Harry's diverse skill set and comprehensive education, from number-crunching to bed preparation, have made him a true asset to the UC Master Gardener Program in Ventura County. “Harry wears more hats than anyone else in the program - literally and figuratively. The man owns a lot of hats! Harry's contributions to the program are innumerable and his commitment to the UC Master Gardener Program is unrivaled,” says Alexa Hendricks, program coordinator in Ventura County. 

Darlene DeRose – Contra Costa County

Darlene DeRose joined the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County with a commitment of getting the program out into the community.  Darlene was drawn to the UC Master Gardener Program during the same year she earned a certificate in ecotherapy, which focuses on reconnecting people with nature as a form of healing individual and collective suffering. With its focus on research-based education, the UC Master Gardener Program provided a platform and resources for Darlene to venture into the community and reconnect people with the world that surrounds them.

Under her leadership, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County has grown to support more than twenty diverse community gardens - at residential treatment centers, sober living facilities, and affordable housing communities.

During her time as a UC Master Gardener volunteer, Darlene has assembled and inspired a dedicated group of UC Master Gardeners, inspiring them to commit to teaching their communities about growing food and empowering them to generate new ideas to accomplish this goal. “Darlene is simply amazing -- she's a great listener and innovator. She observes community needs, asks questions, and creates space for ideas to percolate, grow and evolve,” according to Dawn Kooyumjian, program coordinator in Contra Costa County. Darlene's ecotherapy training has had a positive impact on community members, fellow volunteers, and program leadership.

The UC Master Gardener Program is exceptional because volunteers like Merry Jo, Harry, and Darlene bring their unique skills and strength to the everyday work of extending home horticulture information to Californians. As we celebrate the work of volunteers during National Volunteer Week, we also celebrate the breadth and depth of knowledge brought by volunteers with careers.

Thank you!

About Gardeners with Heart

MG blue gloves with gold trim formed in the shape of a heart while holding a red potted flower also shaped like a heart.
During National Volunteer Week (April 19 – 25), the UC Master Gardener Program celebrates the contributions of its 6,000 incredible volunteers.  The UC Master Gardener Program is excited to share stories of special volunteers Gardeners with Heart from across the state. Gardener's with Heart volunteers were nominated by their local county leadership for their creativity, strategic thinking, passion for the program's mission and commitment to program delivery. To nominate a Gardener with Heart in your program or county complete this online survey.

Special appreciation to UC Master Gardener program coordinators in Contra Costa (Dawn Kooyumjian), Ventura (Alexa Hendricks), and Lake (Gabriele O'Neill) for sharing the stories of these incredible Gardeners with Heart.

By Marisa Coyne

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